Day Sixteen: War Cry

Psalm 125
1 Kings 18:1-18
Ephesians 6:10-17

There are certain passages of Scripture – particularly stories of conquest in the Old Testament – that always summon the words of an old hymn now long out of favour for its militant imagery and  imperialistic associations to mind.

Today’s texts do the same.

As I read of the prophet Elijah’s deliberate encounter with the evil king Ahab after months in hiding, and anticipate that epic showdown between the prophets of Baal and this faithful servant of God, the refrain begins:

Onward, Christian soldiers!
Marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
Going on before.

As I imagine the stamping feet of hundreds of pilgrims heading towards Jerusalem, praying (Psalm 125:4-5),
O Lord, do good to those who are good,
whose hearts are in tune with you.
But banish those who turn to crooked ways,
O Lord.
Take them away with those who do evil,

the rhythm builds:

Onward, Christian soldiers!
Marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
Going on before.

As I hear the apostle Paul urging the Christians of Ephesus to put on the full armour of God so that they might stand firm in the spiritual battle in which they were engaged against their old paganism with its dark thoughts, dirty talk, and immoral ways, the cry resounds:

Onward, Christian soldiers!
Marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
Going on before.

Unpopular, outdated, uncomfortable as the metaphor may be, in this season of watching and waiting for the Christ-King, today’s Scripture (the sword of the Spirit) opens our eyes to what is going on in the vast unknown of the spiritual realm.

There is a spiritual war going on; a showdown between God and Satan in every part of the cosmos, in earth and in heaven; forces of darkness and evil at work in the world even as we celebrate and long for the True Light of Life; an unholy influence evident where dictators usurp power and the human institutions created to protect and preserve life become instruments of corruption and oppression.

What are we to do in the face of such an intimidating foe?

Trust in God,” the Psalmist answers. “Like Mount Zion, nothing can move Him; nor those who are encircled in his arms forever,” (Psalm 125:1-2).

Stand firm in the power of the God-of-Angel-Armies, as Elijah did when he defied Ahab’s accusations: “It’s not I who has caused trouble in Israel,” said Elijah, “but you and your government—you’ve dumped God’s ways and commands and run off after the local gods …” (1 Kings 18:18).

Put on God’s armour and take your stand in God’s strength – the same strength that God used to conquer death and raise Jesus from the grave!

“Truth, righteousness, peace, faith,
and salvation are more than words.
Learn how to apply them …. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon …. prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare …. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out”
(
Ephesians 6:14-18, The Message).   

Today, pray long and hard for brothers and sisters in the faith …

… for those who are going through a particularly tough time …

… for those whose spirits are low or who are struggling with their faith ….

The desolation of death

*Easter Eve: John 19:38-42*

Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and the tomb was nearby, they laid him there.
Verses 41-42

Darkness has covered the land –

not just darkness in the sense of night
but the darkness of betrayal
the darkness of denial
the darkness of disbelief
the darkness of mockery
the darkness of abandonment
the darkness of human barbarity
the darkness of death.

You know the desolation of this moment:

you who have buried a loved one, a child;
you who have been beaten, ridiculed, bullied, abused;
you who have been surprised by a positive result on an HIV test when you have always been faithful;
you who have watched the tiny bag of possessions – all that you own – taken from you and burned to nothing;
you who have witnessed people run screaming for their lives as bullets riddle their bodies and bombs drop from the sky;
you who have sat in the isolation of a TB ward …

… you ….

As silence settles in the tomb
and darkness and desolation within our hearts
we wait
in anticipation of the morning
and in the assurance that we are not alone.

“If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”                                                                            Psalm 139:11-12

Last lessons: Love

*Good Friday: John 18:1-19:42*

And again another passage of Scripture says,
“They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”
19:37

Saving love is costly.

People humiliate us; they try to rob us of our dignity, to strip us bare; they make it their mission to alienate us, destroy us, outstrip us.

Yet love forgives.

Jesus prays for his enemies “for they know not what they do.”

So often we know precisely what we’re doing: we deliberately and knowingly deny, betray, turn away …

… yet through love we are forgiven.

And this love assures us of this: that when we recognize our need for conversion, for transformation; when we acknowledge Christ as Lord and Saviour, we are saved from the power of sin and death in this life and claim the promise of newness, the promise of eternity, the promise of Paradise …

… not as some ethereal vision or distant dream. Even today, Jesus makes life more bearable, more beautiful, by connecting us through the cross to one another in a way that comforts and takes responsibility for our Christian brothers and sisters, our fathers and mothers, our sons and daughters, and indeed, for the whole world.

Yet there are times so dark, so difficult that we wonder how we will survive, endure, let alone thrive on life’s abundance.

In the midst of the darkness, Christ cries out that he has carried out pain; that we are not alone. On the cross, love laments so that we can know that we will never be abandoned, never be forsaken.

In fact, in our fragile humanity, in our needs and our longings, God moves us beyond superficial, surface-level relationships to a spirituality that is drenched in the Living Waters of God’s Spirit.

We praise God today that God’s saving love sees what is started through to the end. In a world of half-done things and best intentions, we are moved by the knowledge that the One who began a good work in us is faithful to complete it.

God is not done with our lives until we find our final resting place in God’s heart; until our spirits rest completely and safely in God’s hands.

Are we ready to offer our lives, our hearts, our love, our all to God’s saving love today?

 

In the beginning

A Message for Confirmands based on John 1 and Genesis 1: 15 September 2013

In the beginning …

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.

In the beginning …

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

In the beginning …

Our God is a God of beginnings.  God is present at every start.

God is there at the moment of conception as two cells come together and merge and divide miraculously into fingers and toes and a beating heart and a mass of grey matter that has potential beyond our imagination and understanding and, even within the womb, a personality that sets each child apart and makes them as unique and special.

God is there at the first moment of independence – the first breath, the first inhalation of life, of Spirit; the first exhalation; the first cry; the first angry shout; the first word; the first step; the first fall.

God is there at the inauguration of our work: the first time we help mom in the kitchen, the first time we take responsibility for a pet, the first time we put on our school uniform, the first test we write a test, the first job we have, the first time we change our mind about what we want to do with our lives, the first time we dream about the mark we want to leave on the world.

God is there at the blast off of love – the first time that someone catches our eye and takes our breath away and becomes the center of our thinking, our being, our doing.  God is there at the first stuttered conversation, the first date, the first kiss, the first beak-up, the first heart ache, the first faint rustling of hope that this is something we should try again.

And God was there the first time that we met together as confirmands.  Some came shyly, some reluctantly, some because their parents insisted that they attend; some because they didn’t want to sit on their own at Children’s Church, some because they saw a gathering of similarly-aged young people and were curious; some because confirmation was the next part of their spiritual journey that they deliberately wanted to go through.

Yet why they came was actually unimportant.  As were their differences in terms of age and personality and levels of maturity and experience of church and understanding of this faith we call Christianity.

What is important is that God was there – in the beginning.

No.

That’s not quite right.

God was there before the beginning.  When things were formless and empty and dark, even then God was there and God said, “Let there be light” and there was light.  And there was Life – in the beginning.

We sometimes forget that because life is not always good or kind or enjoyable.  Sometimes it is scary and messy and incomprehensible and utterly beyond our control.  Sometimes – through our own choices – or through the choices of others, life subjects us to unbearable suffering, excruciating pain, heart-breaking disappointment.  Sometimes it is merely the boredom and the dullness of our daily routine that eats slowly away at our passion, our vision, our courage.  Sometimes we don’t know which way is up, or which road to choose in the multitude of forks that lie ahead of us.

Yet God is there.

In every moment, in every sense, in  every memory, in every thing that sustains life, God is there.

Like the many to whom John refers in his Gospel we do not see that.  Though God is in our lives; though our lives were made through God, we don’t recognize God in every moment: both good and bad; the times of smooth sailing and the encounters with stormy waters.

Yet God has been with us since the beginning.

No – since before the beginning God has been active and moving and present; in you and in me.

As our leadership listened to the testimonies of the confirmands yesterday that is the word that they shared: God is there.  As we have gathered as church, as guild, as community it is a word we experience: God is here.  As our young people have made vows today they have asked, “God walk with me from this day forward” in the faith that God has been with them since the beginning.

And to those who receive Him, to those who believe in His name, God gives the right to be children of God.

To our confirmands this morning I want to say that this is, indeed, just another beginning – a start into what it means to be a child of God.  It is an adventure into discovering your uniqueness, your belovedness, your part beyond this community and within the whole of God’s creation.  You are never alone, never unseen, never unimportant for you are made and named by God and utterly precious in the eyes of God.  God is there – in the moments that spark light and life and energy and passion and in the moments that seem empty and formless and dark.

God is there.  And we, your very extended family, are here too – to nurture and encourage and support you; to point you to the signs of life and light in the moments of darkness; to reflect God’s glory; and to be to you a place in which you can experience God’s grace and truth.

To those of us who are in need of such encouragement and support, who have lost our first love for God, who have wandered away from the paths that lead to life, let me remind you: our God is a God of beginnings and you can begin anew with God in this moment, on this day.